The adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is most pertinent in bunny care. Common medications used to treat most pets are toxic to rabbits and can cause death. Therefore, it is vital to choose a veterinarian knowledgeable in rabbit care. A clean-living environment, balanced diet and exercise are the building blocks for a healthy bunny.
Rabbits living out of doors and rabbits allowed “run time” outdoors are at risk for a variety of serious health threats.
Warbles – Warbles are the larvae of the warble fly. The fly deposits its larvae under the rabbit’s skin and the larvae then feed on the rabbit to mature. This is the equivalent of being eaten alive! Rabbits infected with warble fly larvae can experience serious infections, abscesses, permanent disfigurement, can become crippled, and even die
Maggots – From the time a fly lays her eggs, it takes as little as four hours for maggots to appear. They generally lay their eggs around the genital area attracted by feces and urine. Maggots can enter a rabbit’s body through their rectum, once again feeding on the rabbit’s tissues. In most cases this is fatal
Fleas and Ticks – Feed on the blood supply of animals. In severe infestations they can cause anemia and death. Due to the sensitivity of rabbits to chemicals you MUST consult your Veterinarian before using anything on your bunny for treatment of this condition. Treatments commonly used on cats and dogs should NOT be used on rabbits.
Heat Stroke – Rabbits are extremely sensitive to heat. When the temperature reaches 80 degrees your rabbit is at SERIOUS risk of heat stroke. Some symptoms of heat stroke are panting, labored breathing and listlessness (lying around, no energy). Immediate action must be taken to move the rabbit to cooler surroundings and call your Veterinarian. Heat stroke is the most common reason for death of outdoor rabbits during the summer months.
Cold Weather – Rabbits tolerate cooler temperatures better than heat, but contrary to popular belief, their “fur coat” will NOT keep them from freezing to death. Today’s rabbit breeds are not suited to live outdoors, especially the smaller breeds. Their fur coat is the equivalent to your winter coat. How long would you be comfortable sitting on your porch in 30-degree weather?
Animal Attacks – Rabbits are prey for most other animals (cats, dogs and foxes to name a few). When in an outdoor hutch your rabbit is vulnerable to attack from other animals. Even if they fail to knock over the hutch and gain entrance, the fear alone could kill your rabbit.
Loneliness and Depression – Rabbits are very social animals and love the company, attention and stimulation of humans. Their average life span is only eight to ten years…is it too much to ask that the quality of their lives be an issue?
Sanitation – Cleaning your rabbit’s cage and living area is important whether it lives indoors or outdoors, but outdoors a dirty cage can cause sores on your rabbit’s body which can lead to infection and in turn increases the risk of warble and maggot infestation.
The following examples can help you better recognize the signs of something abnormal in your rabbit. The final decision to call your veterinarian is yours. A word of caution in delaying care: a rabbit’s symptoms of illness are often sudden and delaying treatment can be a huge mistake and lead to death!
General warning signs of trouble – Your Veterinarian should be consulted when you notice:
Swellings / Lumps on the Body
Hair Loss and Scratching
Discharge from Eyes, Nose or Mouth
1. Stopped Eating – First check your bunny’s teeth; make sure they are straight and not so long that they overlap. A rabbit that hasn’t eaten in 12 – 24 hours is SERIOUS and a real reason for concern.
2. Decreased Urine Output – If you notice your rabbit is not urinating in the same volume as normal or if it seems to be straining to urinate or using the litter box more frequently than usual, this could be symptomatic of calcium sludge in the urinary tract or a bladder infection. Once again, these symptoms need to be addressed immediately.
3. String-of-Pearls Poop – When the stool is strung together with what appears to be hair, this could be the beginning of a hairball problem. If not monitored, it has the potential to become serious! If this condition persists, consult your Veterinarian. Giving your rabbit two or three pencil eraser size pieces of dried pineapple or dried papaya or a teaspoon of canned pumpkin (NOT canned pumpkin pie mix) can help to move the hairball along.
4. Poopy Butt – Sometimes due to change in diet, age or for no apparent reason, your rabbit may have soft stools that stick to the genital area. Use baby shampoo and warm water to soak and remove feces. Cutting back on the serving size of your rabbit’s greens and increasing their timothy hay intake may also help this problem.
5. Diarrhea – Liquid Stools. THIS IS VERY SERIOUS and requires immediate medical attention!!! Note: If your Veterinarian prescribes yogurt as a dietary supplement, make sure it is a good quality with no fruit or sugar and contains live active-cultures such as L. Acidophilus.
6. Swallowed Objects – If your bunny swallows any unintended object or chews on an electrical cord resulting in a shock, your veterinarian should be consulted immediately.
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